eady to stray off the beaten path for something different, unique or downright weird? Here are some odd places, interesting folks and offbeat events in glorious North Carolina to satisfy your appetite for the strange and unusual, courtesy of VisitNC.com
Located in Wilson County is an amazing collection of “Whirligigs” – large, wooden, wind-driven mechanical windmills – created by local folk artist Volis Simpson (1919 – May 31, 2013). The devices incorporate complex movement and sound and are an integral part of more than 30 works erected on Simpson’s property. His works have been exhibited in several museums, such as the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. He has also been featured in several publications, including Sign and Symbol, People and Time.
Belhaven Memorial Museum
Think you’ve seen it all? One visit to the Belhaven Memorial Museum will surely change your mind. This museum is like no other, the result of Mrs. Eva Blount Way’s penchant for collecting buttons. When she died in 1962 at age 93, Mrs. Way had amassed some 30,000 buttons in addition to a fascinating array of memorabilia. Among the collection are period clothing, toys and dolls, china, farm tools and some truly “odds” and ends . . . like a dried flea wedding (visible through a magnifying glass), a two-headed kitten, one-eyed fetal pig and a hare lipped dog. The museum, now housed in Belhaven’s Town Hall, continues to build on her collection.
The Gourd Museum
Marvin Johnson, long-time president of the Gourd Village Garden Club, founded the Gourd Museum in 1964. He and his wife collected so many gourd crafts from around the world that they decided to build a museum to display them. A master gourd grower, Johnson cultivated more than 200 different kinds of gourds, most of which he crafted and placed on display. Visitors will find giant African gourds to gourds so tiny they look like robins’ eggs.
Museum of the Alphabet
The Museum of the Alphabet fills a small building with various depictions of the world’s alphabets. Exhibits include languages dating from early Egyptian to Turkish, Russian and Greek, to name a few. Many of the displays are hand-painted with amazing attention to detail.
Clyde Jones – Chainsaw Folk Artist
The small mill town of Bynum, just south of Chapel Hill, has become popular for its unusual outdoor art. Local chainsaw folk artist Clyde Jones has a small mill house covered in decorative murals and surrounded by hundreds of animal figures handcrafted with a chainsaw. Jones carves his “critters” from large chunks of wood (mostly cedar), then uses an assortment of junk (old softballs, plastic fruit, old film canisters) to add other features. Jones and his dog, Speck, greet the visitors.
Country Doctor Museum
The Country Doctor Museum, founded in 1967, is the only medical museum in the nation dedicated to rural physicians who practiced medicine in the South during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The museum collects and preserves the medical instruments and tools of pharmacy used by country doctors as well as their diaries, papers and medical books. The museum is housed in two restored 19th-century physicians’ offices, which were moved to Bailey and joined to form a single building.
Love Valley, NC
If you love westerns, this is the place for you. In 1948, Mayor Andy Barker decided to start his own town in Iredell County’s Brushy Mountains. When you approach Love Valley, you’ll think you are entering an authentic old western town, complete with a dancehall and saloon, tack shop, general store and blacksmith. Cowboys and their horses roam the dirt streets. No vehicles are allowed, so saddle up and ride on in.
Mount Airy, NC
Fans of the 1960s Andy Griffith Show get a taste of the life depicted in the popular television series when they visit Mount Airy in north-central North Carolina, Griffith’s hometown and the inspiration for the series. Visitors are welcome to take a ride in Barney’s squad car (also available for weddings, anniversaries and special occasions) and cruise by Andy’s childhood home and down Main Street past Floyd’s Barbershop. The town has recently dedicated a bronze statue of Andy and TV son Opie, and there’s plenty more to see and do around this small town, from enjoying a pork chop sandwich at Snappy Lunch to taking in views off the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Grifton Shad Festival
The idea of a town festival for a fish wasn’t met with much enthusiasm when the local extension agent first suggested the concept in 1969. The shad, after all, is small and bony, fun to catch but hard to eat. But the mayor proclaimed, “We don’t have to eat shad – they don’t eat azaleas at the Azalea Festival or mules during Mule Days!” And the Grifton Shad Festival was born. The festival has gained favor every year, with over 30 events, ranging from clogging and crafts to canoe races, historical exhibits and golf. Perhaps the most popular event is the “Lying Competition,” where some pretty tall tales are brought forth in the best Southern storytelling tradition.
National Hollerin’ Contest
Spivey’s Corner, NC
Every year on the third Saturday in June, thousands gather in this otherwise sleepy small central NC town to take part in a daylong hollerin’ extravaganza. This contest has gained national recognition; some of its champions have even made guest appearances on television shows such as The Late Show with David Letterman and The Tonight Show. The competition began over 30 years ago when co-founders Ermon H. Goodwin and John Thomas jokingly suggested reviving the long-lost art of hollering in a contest to benefit the local volunteer fire department. Their idea became a reality in 1969, flooding the town with participants and onlookers and becoming a yearly event. Today, in addition to the main contest, there’s the Junior Hollerin’ Contest, Teen Hollerin’, Conch Shell Blowin’ and the Ladies Callin’ Contest.
Underwater Bicycle Race
Beaufort, NC July 4
The Annual Underwater Bike Race, held off the shore of Indian Beach at the Indra wreckage site, draws intrepid participants each year. Contestants decorate their bikes (and themselves), don scuba gear and race to the finish – underwater. It matters not how rider and bike finish, as long as they both cross the finish line. Spectators can view the action by charter boat or by snorkeling or scuba diving. The event benefits the Mile of Hope children’s cancer group.
Benson Mule Days
The mule has long been highly regarded in the rural community of Benson. As technology began to take the place of mule-power in the late 1940s, a few city leaders wanted to honor the mule for all it had contributed, and Benson Mule Days was born. That was 55 years ago, and today this popular event annually draws some 70,000 people from all over the country and around the world. Activities include pageants, parades, rodeos, food, arts and, of course, the mule events: pulling contests, halter classes and pleasure riding. And for fun there’s the Human Braying Contest, Coon Jumping and the popular Mule Race.
Annual Woolly Worm Festival
Banner Elk, NC
Move over, Punxsutawney Phil, there’s a new meteorologist in town, and his name is “Woolly Worm.” For generations, high country residents have been studying the black and brown bands on these fuzzy caterpillars to determine what kind of winter to expect (the colors of the worm’s 13 bands correspond to the 13 weeks of winter). To chase the honor of being the official woolly worm to have its rings read, caterpillars race up 3-foot strings. Anyone can enter a Woolly Worm for a chance to win; those who forget their favorite worms at home can pick up a winning worm at the festival. Humans with an urge to race will enjoy the challenging 10K “Woolly Worm Woad Wace.” The festival – with crafts, food, live entertainment and more – takes place in the small mountain town of Banner Elk and attracts around 20,000 fans, 140 vendors and some 1,000-race entrants annually.
New Year’s Eve Possum Drop
Brasstown, December 31
New York m NCay have its descending Waterford crystal ball to ring in the New Year, but Brasstown has, well, Brasstown has its own icon: a possum. That’s right, a live possum in a festively decorated Plexiglas container is gently lowered to signify the beginning of the New Year. Of course, the event wouldn’t be complete without music, homemade cider and a pageant to elect Miss Possum. These and other activities combine for a New Year’s Eve not to be forgotten. For details, contact (828) 837-3797.
For additional information about travel and events in North Carolina, go to the visitnc.com brochures page or call 1-800-VISIT NC for a North Carolina Travel Package.
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